BROOKLINE, Mass. – This year’s US Open begins as an unprecedented showdown for golfers who have remained loyal to the established PGA Tour and a breakaway pack of ex-colleagues who recently joined the new, rebel, Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series. But the anticipated confrontation at the Country Club outside Boston fizzled in the first round Thursday when golfers from both camps got along without friction.
The LIV Golf-aligned players also faded from contention early.
By Sunday, the ongoing split in men’s professional golf was hardly settled, but it was overshadowed by a riveting final-round shootout between three of the sport’s best young players: Matt Fitzpatrick, 27, of England, and the Americans Will Zalatoris, 25. and Scottie Scheffler, 25.
In the end, Fitzpatrick, who won the US Amateur at the Country Club nine years ago, survived the crucible, winning his first major golf championship with a fourth-round 68 that made him six under par for the tournament.
Zalatoris and Scheffler were one stroke back.
The pressure-filled fourth round came down to the last two holes with Fitzpatrick leading by one stroke over Zalatoris, his playing partner. He held a two-stroke advantage over Scheffler, who had teed off two groups before Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris, the third-round leaders.
But Scheffler birdied the 17th hole to get under five and tie Zalatoris, who like Fitzpatrick made par at the 17th hole.
It came down to the 444-yard, par-4 18th hole, a signature hole of the Country Club. Zalatoris drilled his tee shot onto the fairway and hit a second shot within 14 feet. Fitzpatrick yanked his tee shot left into a yawning bunker, but from 156 yards he struck a crisp iron that bound onto the green and stopped 17 feet from the hole.
Fitzpatrick then confidently double-putted for par. Zalatoris’s birdie putt to tie Fitzpatrick and set up a playoff drifted less than an inch to the left of the hole.
While Saturday’s third round was played in gusting winds that made the greens firm and fast – and produced only seven rounds under par – Sunday’s conditions were benign in comparison. The Country Club has a fearsome course in any weather, but the forecast has been for chilly temperatures and moderately strong winds that presaged another tough day for the best golfers in the world. Instead, the wind died down and cloud cover made for a pleasant day in the 60s. Most of all, an overnight storm dumped a quarter inch of rain on the club’s small greens, which slowed them down and made them less tricky.
As a result, the field could be more aggressive, especially if a tee shot landed on the fairway. In some cases, however, it may have given the golfers false confidence as costly mistakes were still commonplace.
Zalatoris began the day tied for the lead with Fitzpatrick at four under par but faltered early when he three-putted from 67 feet down the second hole for a bogey. Then, on the next hole, he sent his second shot into a greenside bunker, which led to a second successive bogey. But Zalatoris rarely appeared rattled. He steadied himself with three consecutive pars and at the par-3, 158-yard sixth hole, he drilled his tee shot 2 feet from the flag for an easy birdie. Zalatoris’ approach shot to 164 yards from the par-4 seventh green and rolled just an inch left of the hole. His tap-in birdie brought him back to four under par for the round. When Zalatoris sank a 17-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, he makes the turn at five under par, just one stroke behind Fitzpatrick.
After a steady par on the 10th hole, Zalatoris played it smart and safe on the downhill par-3 11th hole, which was playing just 108 yards on Sunday (with a dastardly difficult back left hole position). Zalatoris left his tee shot down the hole and rolled in an 18-foot putt for the birdie to move under six, which gave him the tournament lead at the time. But a missed fairway off the 12th tee led to a layup short of the green and finally a bogey.
After watching Zalatoris fall back to five under par, Fitzpatrick, who was tied for second place entering the final round of last month’s PGA Championship, attacked. Standing over a 48-foot putt for the birdie on the 13th hole, he rolled a snaking, left-to-right putt slowly but confidently into the hole to tie Zalatoris.
Like everyone at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, Fitzpatrick’s round was uneven and unpredictable. He started strong with three pars and two birdies in his opening five holes. But his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole was excessively long, sailing 66 feet past the hole, which led to a bogey. Fitzpatrick rallied with a comfortable birdie on the par-5 eighth but like many on Sunday he couldn’t sustain a positive moment. He stumbled on the 10th hole when a lengthy second shot was short of the green and led to another bogey. Then the tiny 11th tormented Fitzpatrick as a 7-foot par putt skidded past the hole for a second successive bogey.
Scheffler appeared to take a commanding lead in the tournament on Saturday with a sparkling front nine, but then gave it all back with a string of bogeys on the back nine. On Sunday, Scheffler carved up the front nine again, with four birdies in his first six holes. Scheffler’s approach to precisely shooting small, devilish greens and his craft on the crafty surfaces was superb as three of his four early birdie putts were converted from outside 12 feet.
But then Scheffler’s putting stroke deserted him as he needed three putts to get his ball in the hole from 38 feet on the 10th hole. Worse, on the diabolical 11th hole, rimmed 7 feet from Scheffler’s par putt and lipped out for a second successive three-putt bogey that dropped him to four under par for the tournament. Scheffler stayed in the battle though with five successive pars from the 12th through the 16th holes.
Hideki Matsuyama posted one of the best early scores when he shot a five-under-par 65 with five birdies and no bogeys to finish the championship at three under par. Matsuyama needed just 25 putts in his final round.